Washington Huskies left halfback JIMMY JOHNSTON (left), the senior who was cited as Second Team All-Pacific Coast by the Associated Press in 1938 and then chosen by the Washington Redskins in the 10th round (# 88 overall) of the 1939 National Football League Draft, gives his opposite number, UCLA Bruins junior defensive back KENNY WASHINGTON, the proverbial stiff arm while toting the pigskin during the Pacific Coast Conference encounter watched by the crowd of 40,000 spectators at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 8th, 1938 … Washington, who was honored as First Team All-Pacific Coast by the Associated Press in both 1938 & 1939 but was never drafted by an NFL club because of a disgraceful color barrier then in effect, carried the day on this occasion by scoring both of the Bruins’ touchdowns in symmetrical fashion (one on offense and one on defense) as the Huskies fell 13-0 in the City of Angels … This particular victory was extremely significant for the development of the UCLA football program at that precise moment because it marked the very first time that the upstart Bruins had ever been able to topple the more established Washington Huskies (the two schools first started facing one another in 1932).
In honor of the UCLA BRUINS’ history-making accomplishment of having scored three defensive touchdowns in the very same quarter of the 2014 NCAA season-opening clash with the Virginia Cavaliers this past weekend, this blog has concluded it would be a most appropriate time to remember that legendary Westwood gridiron warrior KENNY WASHINGTON was not only a bona fide All-America both running and passing the football but also a truly phenomenal defensive player who was consistently cited in contemporary newspaper reports for actively being involved in a remarkably large number of tackles each and every game, as well.
Usually lined up as the left cornerback in the UCLA Bruins’ defensive backfield, the sure-handed Washington intercepted a respectable total of six passes during his three-year varsity career. It should be remembered that, as a general rule of thumb, most Single Wing teams of the pre-World War II era simply just did not throw the football very often so the opportunities to pirate aerials were certainly not plentiful. It is very interesting to note that Washington totaled three interceptions in nine games as a sophomore for a UCLA team which won only two of nine games in 1937 but then the Kingfish picks off ‘only’ three more passes over the course of his last two seasons for much improved Bruins outfits that only lost four of a combined twenty-one games in 1938 & 1939.
Indeed, Washington went the first nine games of the 1939 NCAA season without making an interception for UCLA until finally pilfering a USC pass (which was promptly returned 28 yards) in his last collegiate appearance as the Bruins and Trojans battled to a stalemate in an epic defensive struggle that year.
In summation, it does appear as if opposing teams became increasingly more cautious about throwing the football anywhere near the vicinity of Kenny Washington as the Kingfish’s three-year varsity career with the UCLA Bruins continued to progress. There is no question that Washington was a legitimate terror when getting his hands on the football via a turnover, as evidenced by his 226 return yards from the six career interceptions for the very impressive average of 37.6 yards per pick. As it went, the Kingfish never did return an interception for a touchdown but Washington did come about as close as one could possibly get as a sophomore against the University of Missouri at the end of November in 1937.
The hosts were hanging on precariously to a 7-0 lead very late in the fourth quarter with the visiting Tigers driving deep in Bruins territory when the Kingfish caught a Missouri pass on the UCLA 10-yard line and immediately set off to the races. Washington made it 87 yards downfield but was ultimately caught from behind with the goal line just two yards away. Alertly, UCLA’s sophomore sensation lateraled to trailing teammate JOHNNY RYLAND and the standout Bruins center was, quite literally, able to fall into the end zone to complete an amazing return while scoring the game’s final touchdown with a mere 30 seconds to be played.
Specifically as a result of that effort in the UCLA – Missouri contest, one of the longest runs of any college football player during the 1937 NCAA season, the Bruins’ rookie was duly listed at the very top of the prestigious “Saturday’s Grid Stars” list, a syndicated weekly feature put out the Associated Press that routinely appeared in newspapers all across the country back then.
As a junior, the Kingfish registered the only defensive touchdown of his collegiate career on a fumble return play against the University of Washington at the beginning of October in 1938 — magnificent video footage from Universal Newsreel highlighting Washington’s two touchdowns for the Bruins in that game against the Huskies can be seen here :
UCLA Bruins defensive back KENNY WASHINGTON (# 13) outraces the desperate Washington Huskies pursuers on his way to completing a most opportunistic 40-yard fumble return for touchdown play during the second quarter of the landmark Pacific Coast Conference tilt staged at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 8, 1938.
Washington left halfback DEAN MCADAMS (# 60) takes the direct snap and heads up the middle on a so-called “line buck” but the Huskies sophomore loses the football after being hit a few yards upfield. UCLA senior quarterback JIM MONTGOMERY (# 37) snatches the airborne pigskin in the center of the field and, after shaking a would-be tackler, starts off on a diagonal run to his left. The savy Montgomery immediately recognizes KENNY WASHINGTON (# 13) over his left shoulder and, after gaining about ten yards himself, unselfishly laterals the football to the Bruins star left halfback, who demonstrates considerable speed while bursting into the end zone to record the first touchdown of the contest.